It was Communion Sunday. All the words were said and the baskets filled. And as the choir stood to sing, the congregation readied itself to enter the place of communion. Expecting an ornate choral selection, the congregation was surprised by what they heard. It was a simple tune with simplistic notions. No large swells or dramatic pauses, plain harmonies. The words paralleled the simple structure. It began “At the table of the Lord bread is broken, At the Table of the Lord, we are fed, We remember now the words that Christ has spoken, this is my body, He said.”
When I was growing up, I always thought communion was fun. It was the one Sunday a month where it was perfectly acceptable to eat in Church, not to mention the fact that my fruit juice of choice was always served. I knew that it was special, but for different reasons than I recognize now.
I grew up in a tradition in which communion was highly symbolic. As Jesus requested, we did it to remember him. But as I evolved in my own faith, I realized that communion is hardly just a memorial that we do weekly, monthly, or quarterly.
On a recent planning retreat, my peers and I were eagerly scheduling events for the coming semester. Our advisors jumped in the process with us — as eager to plan as we were. But it was tiring and we all went to bed exhausted. The next morning we students awoke hungry, but our advisors would not allow us to prepare our breakfast. Instead they insisted we wait in the common room. Sleepily, we obliged.
They came into our meeting room with a loaf of bread and cup of juice. That morning, before the craziness of planning and brainstorming, before even the satisfaction of pancakes, we were afforded an even more simplistic satisfaction. We were served the Eucharist. It was the first nourishment we experienced that day — physically and spiritually. We were embraced in the commonality of our beginning and encouraged to acknowledge each other as a beloved child of God.
Communion is so much more than a simple act, a simple memory. It is remembrance of the reason for our life. In taking the bread and wine we are renewed in the most fundamental reality of our Christian lives — that we are an Easter people.
Taking the bread and wine, we are reminded that Jesus did die. He did suffer a horrible death imposed by a ungracious people in a harsh world. As we share the simple feast, we are reminded that we are part of that ungracious people and we are still living in that harsh world.
But in the Eucharist is also the truth that the world did not end on Good Friday. Christ died. But He rose. Communion often entrenches guilt on those who partake of the feast. Breaking the bread and drinking the juice reminds them of the suffering of Christ. Communion is much more than a time of mourning. The Eucharist is a grateful meal — one eaten with respectful remembrance and hopeful joy. Yes, Jesus died. Hear the good news! He rose. The Table of the Lord is open to us and we are an Easter people.
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A graduate of Candler School of Theology at Emory University with a doctorate in ministry and master of divinity, Rev. Dr. Jonathan Chapman serves as pastor of Westfield (Conn.) UCC. While at Candler he earned the Hoyt Hickman Award for Outstanding Liturgical Scholarship, and he was a 2007 Congregational Fellow and 2006 Undergraduate Fellow with The Fund for Theological Education. He earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Elon University.